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Colombia And FARC Peace Deal Depends On The Will Of Voters


Now we go to Colombia, which is just across the northwest border from Brazil. A civil war in Colombia has been fought for half a century. Almost a quarter of a million people have been killed in that conflict. Now the civil war looks like it's finally coming to an end. Last week, the Colombian government and Marxist rebels signed a historic peace accord. But it's not quite a done deal. That's because a referendum will let Colombian voters decide whether to either accept or reject it. Reporter John Otis tells us more.


IVAN MARQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).


JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: After signing the accord in Havana, Cuba, the site of the peace talks, rebel negotiator Ivan Marquez declared, long live Colombia. Long live the peace. The accords call on the Marxist rebel group known as the FARC to get out of the illegal drug trade, lay down its weapons and form a political party. The government has promised to set up a truth commission and develop the impoverished areas that gave rise to the FARC back in the 1960s. So what's not to love? Plenty - according to critics.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT FRANCISCO SANTOS: What you have is a peace process that is not going to generate peace.

OTIS: That's former Vice President Francisco Santos. He's also the cousin of President Juan Manuel Santos, the chief architect of the peace process. Francisco Santos complains that under the agreement, guerrillas who carried out massacres and kidnappings can avoid prison as long as they tell the truth about their atrocities.

SANTOS: They might not go to jail for a second. They don't ask for forgiveness. They haven't said, you know, we're sorry for killing and displacing and kidnapping and terrorism.

OTIS: Voters will have the final say in an October 2 plebiscite. For the peace treaty to take effect, the yes vote must outnumber the no vote by a simple majority. Maria Victoria Llorente is a Bogota political analyst.

MARIA VICTORIA LLORENTE: I think that the peace agreement, peacebuilding in Colombia, needs a huge endorsement, a very big yes.

OTIS: That, she says, would strengthen the Santos government as it builds roads and schools in former war zones and brings demobilized rebels back into civilian life. Most polls show the yes vote ahead, but one survey this month predicted voters would reject the peace accord. That probably would not mean a return to fighting, but Llorente says it could derail post-war reconstruction.

MARIA VICTORIA LLORENTE: If the no wins, the next government may say, you know, well, that was the past government. It isn't, you know, an agreement that I really think it's important, so I can - I'll change my mind and I'll do something different.

OTIS: To prevent that, the government has launched emotional spots on TV and social media.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: This one proclaims, "in places where bombs once exploded we will celebrate life." Here in Bogota, peace activists are discussing how to get out the vote. One of them is Lorena Murcia.

LORENA MURCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: She says rebel family members convinced her to join the FARC guerrillas when she was only 10. She later deserted. Now 23, Murcia says a yes vote is the way to prevent further bloodshed.

MURCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: She says, "I don't want other kids to go off to war like I had to. I'm going to vote yes because I want the FARC to disappear." For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Bogota, Colombia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.